Biden says Israel has offered a ‘comprehensive’ ceasefire proposal to end Gaza war

Biden says three-phase proposal includes full ceasefire continuing as long as Hamas and Israel keep negotiating

MEE staff

US President Joe Biden announces a proposed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza while delivering remarks in the State Dining Room at the White House on 31 May 31, 2024 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

US President Joe Biden said Israel has offered a “comprehensive” ceasefire proposal that would end fighting in the Gaza Strip as he declared from the White House podium “it’s time for this war to end”. 

Speaking at the White House on Friday, Biden said Qatar has presented Hamas with a three-phase deal that includes a “full and complete ceasefire” in Gaza as he publicly threw the weight of the US behind the proposal. 

“I’ve urged the leadership in Israel to stand behind this deal despite whatever pressure comes,” Biden said, adding there are those in Israel’s government who will oppose the deal.

“They’ve made it clear they want to occupy Gaza. They want to keep fighting for years and the hostages are not a priority to them,” he said. 

The proposal Biden outlined in great detail appeared nearly identical to the one Hamas agreed to in early May.

The main exception was that Biden didn’t say whether phase three would include a complete lifting of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, as the text of the deal Hamas accepted on 6 May included. Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2006. 

Yet, Biden’s speech from the White House appears to contradict reports that had proliferated in US media suggesting that the US was “blindsided” by Hamas accepting a deal earlier this month that called for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

Last week, CNN reported that an Egyptian intelligence official had “quietly changed” the terms of the proposal, surprising negotiators and leading to Israel rejecting the deal. The report said that the US wasn’t aware of the deal.

Middle East Eye reported that CIA director Bill Burns, who has led the US negotiating team, reviewed the deal and that the US backed the agreement. 

‘Step back’

“An indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of total victory will only bog down Israel in Gaza,” Biden said, saying its time for the US’s closest Middle East ally to “take a step back”. 

Biden put the onus on Hamas to accept the current proposal. 

“Hamas says it wants a ceasefire. This deal is an opportunity to prove whether they really mean it. Hamas needs to take the deal”. 

After Biden’s speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying that Israel had authorised its negotiating team to present an offer to Hamas. He said the war would not end until the “elimination” of Hamas’s capacity to govern Gaza and make war. The language marks a departure from Israel’s call for a total elimination of Hamas. 

“The war will not end until all of its goals are achieved, including the return of all our hostages and the elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities,” Netanyahu’s office said. 

Biden outlined the three-phase agreement mediators have hashed out in unprecedented detail.  

‘Cessation of hostilities permanently’

The first six-week phase of the proposal would include a full ceasefire across Gaza and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from all population centres. During the first phase, Hamas would exchange hostages including women, elderly and wounded for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. US citizens would also be released as well as the remains of dead hostages. 

Palestinians would also be able to return to “all areas of Gaza” Biden promised, and 600 aid trucks would enter the enclave each day. This has been a key sticking point for Hamas and matches the text of the agreement MEE reported on 7 May. 

The second phase would include an exchange of all remaining living hostages including male soldiers and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, Biden said. He added that the two sides would continue discussing a permanent ceasefire.

“There are a number of details to negotiate, to move from phase one to phase two,” Biden said. 

But crucially, he added, the full ceasefire from phase one would continue as long as Hamas and Israel keep negotiating. 

Biden said the second phase included reaching “the cessation of hostilities permanently”. 

Biden said Egypt, Qatar and the US would guarantee the deal.

“The US will help ensure that Israel lives up to their obligations,” Biden said. “This is a decisive moment”.

The third and final stage would include the reconstruction of Gaza.

Besides saying that Arab nations and the international community would contribute, Biden provided the least amount of detail on this phase. MEE reported that the administration has been working to send an Arab peacekeeping force to Gaza. The US also wants the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza. 

“At this point, Hamas is no longer capable of carrying out another October 7,” Biden said. 

Biden said that the deal will not allow Hamas to “rearm” but he didn’t rule out a Hamas presence in Gaza in the future. 

He added that “Palestinians endured sheer hell, too many civilians have been killed”.

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